Richard North Talks RealFX, Sphero's BB-8, His Special Talents and More

Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?

I came into the industry by chance about 8 years ago. I had been working in different industries, largely tech, and had sold my ecommerce business and then a price comparison search engine. I got into the toy industry after meeting my 2 co-founders of Wow! Stuff Dr. Graeme Taylor and Kenny McAndrew whom I met at a gift fair in the UK. They were both accomplished scientists but inventors by nature. They were at the fair drumming up sales for a product they felt could sell in the hundreds of thousands and I was working on a gifts business venture which was proving very hard work and likely to fail. Kenny and Graeme’s invention went on to sell over 2 million pieces, has appeared as the main theme in a Matthew Mconaughy starred movie and later became a centre piece of the Australian Museum of Contemporary art and had it’s own room where it adorned the walls and ceiling. In the USA it is sold as The Butt/Face towel.

What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?

I think one of the worrying things on so many parent’s minds is the proliferation of smart devices; the cost of them but more importantly the sheer volume of apps that keep kids glued to the screen creating less physical social interaction with their family, friends and peers. As a parent of 4 I have been concerned at the way my own kids get wholly absorbed into screen apps. We saw the big rise and fall of app toys a few years ago, so a false dawn, but products like our own RealFX and Sphero’s BB-8 are approaching the opportunity a little differently. This whole toys to life area  is a very exciting time to be in the industry. Our inventor division Wow! Labs has a firm focus on building products that allow young kids, teens and parents to play together side by side and gain a great experience. We want to be inclusive with the play experience yet not dumb down for young kids, bore the teens and 20-50’s or over complicate for more senior adults. It’s an interesting challenge.

What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas to you?

Well I suppose it goes without saying that they shouldn’t just choose us but cast their net wide. What’s wrong for us or anyone else right now is often right for us or others tomorrow. Timing and persistency seem to be bywords for inventing success.

What was your favorite toy or game as a child?

Slot cars. No question. Kids and kids at heart love to race, but in 50 years slots haven’t moved with the times and the tech.

What does your typical day look like?

Morning is spent arranging the day and dealing with the priorities. We have 3 group divisions whichmean’s I can be doing PR for a product, selling to a major retailer in a different country, or reviewing product inventions – ours, or from other inventors.

What is the worst job you’ve ever had and what did you learn from it?

I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad job, just bad times and usually through making poor decisions. I have built 7 companies in different industries but none of them compare to the toy industry. Although I know it’s relatively rare I would never have believed the lengths people would go to in ripping off the ideas of others, patents or copyrights. In 2010 we teamed up with a US inventor who created the Air Swimmers concept. We have been fighting the copycats ever since. Also, I am surprised at what even legitimate looking companies will do in order to prevent a competitive product reaching a market.

What inspires you?

Most definitely great ideas and great teams.

Where were you born?

Born in Wolverhampton, West Midlands which is pretty much the middle of the UK. My Wow! Labs colleagues are also Brits but half of them now live in LA. That might sound like we are a bigger company than we are, by half I mean 2 of the 4!

Where did you grow up and how did that influence who you are today?

Modestly in a small house with very loving and encouraging parents and a very hard working but differently abled brother who sadly passed away at 28. Being from a modest background and seeing my brothers struggles is what fired me up to try and make ends meet and work hard.

What do you read every day, and why?

I read Car magazines every single day. I have plenty of books on my other hobby, branding & marketing but my away from work passion is cars.

What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?

Has to be my iphone. Emails, calendars, to do lists and just general connectivity.

What is your eye color?

Eye colour is blue but last night it was red. Partly from celebrating our first major Real FX award in London and partly because in the celebration someone thought it would be wise to throw bread rolls around.

Are you named after anyone?

No, but often I am nicknamed by my colleagues (in a mickey taking way)

When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

The bread roll hitting me in the eye. I saw the funny side of it.

Do you have any kiddos?

I have girls 9, 14 and 18 and a boy 16. My elder girl and boy have taken their exams and got A*’s (A Stars are the UK’s highest awards) whereas I was very average through school. My boy Harry was joint top in his school and top in the country in one exam with a 100% mark which is unprecedented, and for our family that makes him the cleverest in history!

Do you have any pets?

4 dogs, 3 of them are Cockerpoos (one is a poodle).

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Cars, which you might say could be obvious because of our Real FX. I love cars and have been nearly killed twice in 2 major accidents in my earlier years. I’ve had all sorts of models from the very cheap to the stupidly expensive that depreciate faster than an out of trend brand license. But, my favourite is my latest Porsche Spyder (the cheaper Boxter model, not the $1m 918 Spyder!).

Do you play any musical instruments? If so, which one(s)?

Just my iphone and itunes collection

What’s your favorite cereal or breakfast?

I’d have to say Mueseli but I eat breakfast out most mornings and so it ends up as wholemeal toast and marmalade or Porridge.

What’s the first thing you usually notice about people?

I suppose it would be their sincerity, or not. I like straight shooters.

Do you prefer scary movies or happy endings?

Neither, I prefer action and thrillers with or without happy endings; all Marvel stuff and anything with the actor Tom Hardy.

Summer of Winter?

Winter, because of Christmas and the time when most kids are smiling and those that aren’t give us alla time to reflect on what we could do to help.

Hugs or Kisses?

Hugs. Isn’t it lovely to give and receive a sincere one?

Favorite movie of all time?

Star Wars, again no competition there. I was the classic Star wars kid devotee; the book, the action figures, even memorizing all the key catch phrases and role playing in throughout my last year at primary school (I was always Chewie).

What’s the furthest you’ve ever been from home?

In sadder moments I suppose like so many people I could be the furthest from home while at home. To try and mix the blame I guess I’d put it down to being an entrepreneur, a mixture of prescribed medications (nothing overly serious) combined with selfish overwork into the evenings.

Do you have any special talents?

I can’t think of any although I’m quite a good drinker and eater of Curry.

What are your hobbies?

I love swimming when I’m not suffering injuries in my older age. It used to be Karate for 30 years. I’m a black belt under Shihan Dr. Josh Johnson, the UK team coach. It’s been 5 years since I last trained. I’d probably get beaten up by a 10 year these days.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I don’t want to grow up. I want to stay a bit daft, stay working, make a few mistakes, make a few more friends, treat my family well and make a few wins.

What’s next?

I’d love to see our team build Real FX into the number 1 physical meets digital racing game system in the world with the best and most passionate partners in the industry. 

Thank you for taking time to answer our questions thoughtfully and with a sense of play!